The Lagging Indicator

I figured I had better strike while the iron is hot on this thought.

While considering the nature of divination in my previous post, it occurred to me that the “outcome” card in a tarot reading – the outward evidence of a predicted conclusion – may actually be what the science of economics calls a “lagging indicator” (in other words, not the most reliable input for judging the likelihood of a specific future event). In my own experience, the meat of a reading usually lies in the foregoing cards of the spread, which aim to reveal the underlying impetus for change that prefigures the final verdict. For example, in the Celtic Cross spread I find much more inspiration in the first nine cards, which explore the interaction between the object of the reading (the “cross” section) and the subject, or querent (the “staff” section). In short, the journey takes on far greater importance than the presumed arrival in providing useful insights to the sitter, and in practical terms, when reading for people “off the street” we rarely get direct feedback on what transpired anyway.

This stands to reason, since the goal of the reading should be to arm the querent with foreknowledge of how things may play out, giving them an edge in responding to circumstances as they unfold and not simply waiting for the “ax to fall.” The final card may even seem anticlimactic, and it may not provide the last word on the outcome if the querent takes the developmental advice to heart and works to achieve the best possible result regardless of the forecast. Where the outcome card is entirely ambiguous within the context of the reading, it may be profitable to consider it provisional and little more than a moving target. We are prone to say that “nothing is carved in stone,” and here is a textbook example of the truth in that statement. Since I don’t use “clarifiers,” I have even created specific spreads dedicated to showing “the rest of the story” when the apparent denouement of a reading is inconclusive.

But my favorite way of addressing this within the normal flow of the cards is to see the “Near Future” position (Card #6) as showing the first step in the querent’s evolving response to the chain of events displayed in the “timeline” portion of the layout (Cards #3 through #5). I think of it as the “jumping-off place” for the next leg of the journey, ideally foreshadowing and pointing the way to the eventual outcome. Each subsequent card serves as a “signpost” or “way-station” along the road to the destination (Card #10), elaborating on measures and resources the querent may bring to bear on handling events in the most productive way. Eden Gray’s Celtic Cross model (and not that of A.E. Waite) has been the most influential on my personal style of reading this venerable spread.

In reading the Celtic Cross chapter of Tarot Beyond the Basics by Anthony Louis, I noted that he reads Cards #5, #6 and #10 in combination to give a fully realized preview of upcoming circumstances, linking the distant future to events in the immediate environment as a way to establish antecedents. I do much the same thing with Cards #6 and #10, but I prefer to bring in Cards #7, #8 and #9 as active elements in the equation. In that way, the entire “staff” offers advice for proactively dealing with the conundrum of the ambivalent outcome card, making the verdict integral to the analysis and much less of a postscript or “lagging indicator.” In that way it truly becomes the crest of a “future wave” and not just incidental run-off on the shore.

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